It rained overnight, but was only cloudy when we got up. It was warm, and felt sort of steamy. By the time we got on the road, it began to rain again lightly. We headed up to Greymouth for groceries and headed north for Punakaiki and the Paparoa National Park. There is a former cyclone somewhere around NZ, threatening us with lots of rain and wind. Everyone I talked to had a different story about when and where it would hit and what to expect. Anyway, it affected the surf today – the surf was up! We also got a fair amount of rain on the way up the coast. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to do what we had planned.
The road along the coast is similar to Hwy 1 up the California coast, for those who are familiar with that. Cliff up on one side, down on the other, constantly winding, and 2-lane. Except here it is a narrower 2-lane, with little or no shoulders, and frequent 1-lane bridges.
Today we had a new first—a one-lane bridge not only for cars going both ways, but also with train tracks going across it. You have to stop and see if anyone has already started across before you start. A standard scenario: drive along, come to a sharp and blind corner, go around the corner and creep up to the hidden 1-lane bridge, stop if someone is on it and go if the bridge is empty, cross slowly (1-lane means 1 vehicle plus 1 foot or so on each side), and exit to another sharp and blind turn. I have no idea how much money New Zealand has saved by only building half-bridges, but it’s a lot.
The rain stopped as we got to Punakaiki, which is known for its pancake rocks and blowholes. You can see from the photo why they are called pancake rocks—they are layers of limestone and mudstone. Very unusual.
It is best seen at high tide, which we missed by a couple of hours, but the high seas made up for it I think. Words just do not express the effect of huge waves crashing into the rocks and the passages between the rocks, in a boiling, splashing, spraying froth. Our photos don’t really capture the full effect, either.
There was a surge pool, where the waves entered through a small opening, then crashed against the far side of the rocky pool, and splashed back again. Also a couple of places where the surging waves trapped water and air in a pocket, which emitted a spray of mist out the “chimney.”
One place, there was a row of kelp attached to a big rock all at the same level, like tassels. The surf tossed them to and fro.
By the time we left there, there was a little bit of sun, which got stronger. Our next stop was called the Truman Track, a 15 minute trail down through the forest to the beach. It began at the roadside in tall trees, then descended through flax (looks similar to yucca, for those who are familiar with that), and emerged onto bluffs over the beach, then descended to the beach. It was probably 4 hours after high tide. The beach was small rounded gravel—you really sank in. It was mesmerizing watching these huge waves come crashing on to the beach. There were also some big boulders, and the waves had worn shallow caves in the cliffs.
So now it was late afternoon, we had done a couple really great things, and I had run out of plans, not to mention being unsure of the weather. It began to rain again (guess the storm finally got here), so we decided to stay at a holiday park in Westport and see what the morning brings. If it is nice, we will go north toward Karamea. If not, we will head inland tomorrow, and figure it out as we go along. Tomorrow is Monday, and Friday we take the ferry to the North Island, so we have 4 more days to see the rest of the South Island. (We took 3 GB of photos today!) Good day.